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Ferrari: Race to Immortality Poster

Ferrari: Race to Immortality

“It was an era of great glamour and great risk.”

In the 1950s, races like Le Mans and Grand Prix thrilled spectators and made racers celebrities. It was an exciting and scary time in the history of auto racing. This was a gentleman’s sport with much respect for the car and adoration for its driver. A first place win guaranteed immortality. During this time the sport wasn’t quite new but was still suffering from growing pains. Technological advancements ensured faster and more efficient vehicles and racers were beating speed records left and right. However the sport was still incredibly dangerous. From 1950 to 1959, 39 drivers were killed on the racetrack, an alarmingly high mortality rate.

Was the risk worth the glory? Enzo Ferrari thought so.

 

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In a new documentary by director Daryl Goodrich, Ferrari: Race to Immortality explores the pivotal years of 1955-1958, when Ferrari’s Formula One team was celebrated as one of the most successful teams in racing history.  Told through stunning archival footage and audio and interviews with historians, biographers, former racers and those closest to the drivers, we learn about these drivers who lived for the thrill even when death stared them right in the face. Key figures in the documentary include:

Mike Hawthorn
Peter Collins
Luigi Musso
Eugenio Castelotti
Marquis Alonso de Portago
Juan Manuel Fangio

 

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“These guys are warriors.”

The film also offers background on the figure behind the team and the brand, Enzo Ferrari. He had a very complicated relationship with his business and his drivers. Driven by unwavering ambition, he worked tirelessly to bring prestige to his brand Ferrari. It paid off because Ferrari is still known as one of the most important luxury car brands in the world. He felt little emotion for this team members, with the exception of Peter Collins who had a bond with Enzo’s terminally ill son.

A key takeaway from the documentary is how death was perceived by the drivers, team members, their significant others and by society as a whole. Today we can look back at this time and be both horrified at what happened and relieved that the sport is much safer now. But in the 1950s, society embraced death in a way we wouldn’t understand today. In the 1955 Le Mans disaster that killed one driver plus over 80 spectators, the race continued and Mike Hawthorn won. Whenever a fellow competitor died on the track, the wins were tempered with sadness but there was also a resilience to keep on. This is a reminder of what people would do for glory and immortality.

Race To Immortality at Brands Hatch

 

This documentary fully immerses you in the world of 1950s racing. Instead of seeing the talking heads we hear narration over all of the archival footage. The faces of the interview subjects are only revealed in the last 10 minutes. This was an interesting filmmaking technique. The footage keeps you in their world and breaking away to footage of interviews would have just taken the viewer out of it. Also there was a build up of curiosity about the interview subjects. There was some added some emotional resonance at the end when we finally get to see their faces.

Ferrari: Race to Immortality is a poignant documentary about an exciting yet dangerous time in the history of auto racing. It’s available on digital download and is coming to VOD on 7/24.

 

American Socialist: The Life and Times of Eugene Victor Debs

Do Americans really understand Socialism? That question kicks off a new documentary about the early 20th century socialist politician Eugene Victor Debs. Born in 1855 in Terre Haute, Indiana, Debs grew up in a prosperous household but it wasn’t until he left school at an early age and entered the workforce that he began to comprehend the plight of his fellow working man. He fought tirelessly, sometimes at the cost of his own health,  against the growing economic disparity between the wealthy and the working class that began in post Civil War America. He was highly influenced by Karl Marx but also by everyday people. Debs was a gifted orator, traveled the country proselytizing for socialism and amassed millions of fervent supporters. He campaigned for president several times, starting in 1900 and ending in 1920 when he was arrested for radicalism. To this day Debs holds the title of being the only presidential candidate imprisoned for his campaign platform. He was released from prison after 6 months and archival footage of the day of his release is included in the documentary. He continued to fight for his cause until his health failed him and he passed away in 1926.

 

Eugene V. Debs - Passionate Orator
Eugene V. Debs – Passionate Orator. Photo courtesy of First Run Pictures

 

Directed by Yale Strom and released by First Run Features, American Socialist chronicles the life and times of this little known figure in American politics. Economists, professors, scholars and writers offer their insights into Debs and socialism. I was interested to learn that socialism peaked in 1912, that during the agricultural crisis of the early 20th century Oklahoma was the most progressive of the Southern states in contemplating socialist politics and about how capitalism inherently clashes with Christian beliefs. But the focus of this film is truly Eugene V. Debs. It offers a look at the socialist movement,the history of labor activism and the fight against income inequality through the lens of Debs’ life.

 

 

 

What drew me to this documentary was this line from the film’s marketing copy:

“Bernie Sanders inspired a generation – but who inspired him?”

As someone whose politics align very closely to Sanders, I was curious to learn more about the man who influenced him. Bernie Sanders so admired Debs that he created his own documentary about Debs’ life and hung a portrait of Debs in his office. However I didn’t learn any of this from American Socialist . The film only showed a brief clip of a Bernie Sanders speech but offered no information about how the two political figures were connected. At 1 hour and 40 minutes I felt like a good 20 minutes could have been tacked on to explore Debs’ legacy, his influence on Sanders, and how democratic socialism is part of the political landscape today.

 

American Socialist is available today on iTunes It’s also available on DVD from Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

I cry every time I talk about Mister Rogers. Every. single. time.

It doesn’t matter the context. The tears well up in my eyes. I struggle to hold them back but I always fail. To say that Mister Rogers had a big impact on my childhood is an understatement. He continues to have an impact on me decades later as I’m well into my adult years. Fred Rogers passed away in 2003. 15 years later we need him now more than ever.

Directed by Academy Award winner Morgan Neville, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (2018) is a new documentary chronicling the life of the beloved host of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, Fred Rogers. Told through interviews, clips from the show, home video footage, news footage and more, audiences get a closer look at the man whose TV presence impacted generations of children. The talking heads in the movie are members of Fred Rogers’ close circle. These include his wife, his two sons, actors from the show, guests from the show like Yo-Yo Ma and a few others who knew him well. This gives the documentary a level of intimacy that would not have been attained if outsiders like academics, professionals, cultural historians had been included in the mix. We learn about Rogers’ early years and how his path towards becoming a Presbyterian minister was put aside when he saw a need to help children through the medium of television. Fred Rogers transformed into Mister Rogers, a gentle, caring and patient screen presence who encouraged kids to feel good about themselves and also guided them through some of the more difficult aspects of growing up and life in general.

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Fans of the show will recognize many familiar faces including David Newell (Mr. McFeeley), Betty Aberlin (Lady Aberlin), Joe Negri (Handyman Negri) and Francois Clemmons (Officer Clemmons). There are even members who worked behind the scenes including floor manager Nick Tallo who had some great stories to share. They speak at length regarding important and ground-breaking moments in the show and what Fred Rogers was like to work with. Fans will also appreciate how the documentary goes into detail how Mister Rogers used puppets and the land of make believe to convey important messages to children when a direct approach would not be as effective. We also learn how events and cultural moments of the last half of the 20th century affected children and in turn how Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood addressed those concerns.

The show was ground breaking. Where other television programming for children was fast-paced, flashy, goofy and often violent, Rogers and his team had something special. The pace was slow and methodical but with not a wasted minute. Mister Rogers was always transparent with children, whether it was on his show or in person, about the format of television, what was real about it and what wasn’t. I remember one episode from the 1980s where Rogers takes viewers behind the scenes and show all the particulars of the set and introduces us to Johnny Costa, the pianist who played the music to the show. In another episode, Negri leaves his dog with Rogers to dogsit. Rogers is very clear with viewers that the set isn’t his real home and that he has a wife and children in a real home elsewhere. I always appreciated this about him. He could have relied on the smoke and mirrors quality of television. He chose honesty instead.

We like to put Fred Rogers in the mold of modern day saint but he was a much more complicated man than that. He was very vocal in his dislike for television. It took him years to accept actor Francois Clemmons’ homosexuality. Rogers had an obsession with his weight, always keeping it at 143 because that number represented the words I Love You. In his later years, especially after he retired, he got depressed, wouldn’t see the doctor for the stomach ailment that eventually turned into the cancer that killed him and he doubted the impact he had on people and whether he could still have an impact.

I knew I would get emotional watching this film. I thought it would be for the many reasons that the memory of Mister Rogers makes me cry. A couple a years ago I spent an entire year watching one episode of the show per week (a local PBS affiliate would air an episode from the early 1980s every Saturday morning at 6 am). I would record it, watch it and cry. I’d cry from happiness of seeing Mister Rogers again and from the pain that nostalgia brings with it. I cried from the loss of those early years, the loss of my childhood and the loss of my father. Every episode would bring a flood of emotions. Even as a kid I was never interested in the land of make believe and I would get upset when the trolley showed up in Mister Rogers apartment because I knew he’d be gone for a little while. I really just wanted to spend time with him.

When I watched Won’t You Be My Neighbor I cried for a very different reason than I had expected. This surprised me. We live in an era in which dirty politics, mass shootings, bullying, and cruelty dominate our society. Mister Rogers was the embodiment of kindness. True and unadulterated kindness. He always told us “ I like you just the way you are.” In 2018, that kindness doesn’t seem to exist any more, a point brought up in the documentary and reflected on by Rogers’ wife Joanne. We live in a divided culture and we are cruel to each other on a daily basis. 15 years after his death we need Mister Rogers’ brand kindness more than ever. We need him to tell us to look for the helpers. We need him to remind us that “it’s such a good feeling to know you’re alive.” We need him to tell us it’s okay to be mad, sad, glad and that it’s okay to work through our emotions. We still need Mister Rogers and we get a little bit of him through this film.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (2018) is screening in select theaters now.

Official Website 
Trailer

Pressing On: The Letterpress Film

“Printing is a privilege”

When Johannes Gutenberg invented moveable type in the 15th century, the world changed forever. The printing press ushered us out of the Dark Ages into the Age of Enlightenment. Fast forward today’s Information Age and we still have much to thank Gutenberg for how the printing press revolutionized the world. For centuries, letterpress, a form of of pressing ink into paper with the use of engravings carved into wood, metal, linoleum or zinc cut plates, was the standard for creating books, newspapers, magazines, brochures, pamphlets, posters and many other forms of printed words on paper. Over the years, the craft of letterpress was fine tuned byartisans who learned how turn type into an art form. Unlike today’s flash in the pan technology which quickly becomes replaced or obsolete, letterpress machines were improved upon in such a way they became timeless. A machine from a century ago could still function the way it was intended if handled with care. With the birth of offset printing in the mid-Twentieth Century and the advent of computers, letterpress became obsolete. But a group of letterpress printers who value the art and craft of the process are keeping it alive and hoping to pass on their knowledge to the next generation.

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Co-directed by Andrew P. Quinn and Erin Beckloff, Pressing On: The Letterpress Film is a love letter to this art form. It asks the question, why is there still a love for this obsolete technology? The documentary seeks out to answer this with interviews of letterpress printers, both professionals and hobbyists who honed their craft, appreciate the process and ultimately find joy in it. The film revels in the romanc and nostalgia of this form of graphic design. The beat up blocks, the machinery, the colorful designs, the beautiful typography are all part of a long tradition handed down from generation to generation. The interview subjects hail from mid-west and mid-Atlantic. We hear from people who operate independent presses whether at established shops or out of their garage. We learn about the long tradition of Hatch Show Print in Tennessee which made concert posters a collectible art and the Hamilton Museum which keeps the history of letterpress alive. I was particularly taken with the interviews with hobbyist Dave Churchman who collected, you could even say hoarded, letter press equipment. He passed away in 2015 and within the film we also hear from his son who was left in charge of the vast collection his father left behind.

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Dave Churchman

There is a “pressing” need to pass on the knowledge of the art of letterpress to the next generation so it won’t be lost. Today we can appreciate the unique aesthetic of letterpress as a form of graphic design (everything you do in your Adobe Suite is influenced by letterpress!) but can we save the process? When the master printers pass on, who will carry their torch?

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Pressing On: The Letterpress Film is a sensitive and reflective documentary that is clearly in love with its subject. It’s joyful about the form but melancholy about the future. If you have any interest in the history of technology, in graphic design or even in what drives people to pursue their passion, I would highly recommend watching this film.

Pressing On premieres on digital today. You can find it on iTunes, Vimeo or your favorite VOD platform. It’s also available on DVD and Blu-Ray which you can find on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Best Buy!

Pressing On: The Letterpress Film Official Trailer

 

Aesthetic and Process: Exclusive Clip

The Millionares' Unit Poster

The Millionaires’ Unit: The First U.S. Naval Aviators in World War I

The Millionares' Unit Poster

Station: Historical Documentary
Time Travel Destination: 1914-1918 WWI America and Europe
Conductors: Darroch Greer & Ron King

The Millionaires’ Unit (2015)

“Have you ever had your wildest dreams come true?”

The sheer bravery of these men was astounding. With aviation still in its infancy, they learned to fly at a time when taking to the skies was highly unpredictable and dangerous. These pioneering aviators were a group of affluent and well-educated young men who felt that they should use their privilege for the greater good. They decided early on during World War I that they would master flying in case their country needed them. Up until this time the United States was neutral in the war. There was no call to action. They were driven by their own volition and profound sense of duty. The only thing they wanted in return: honor. They were the first Yale Unit, aka The Millionaires’ Unit.

 

The First Yale Unit of WWI
The men of the first Yale Unit and their mascot.

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Directed by Darroch Greer & Ron King, The Millionaires’ Unit follows the story of the first Yale Unit from their early days training, to their enlistment in the U.S. Navy (the service branch during WWI that dealt in aviation), to their battles, the tragedies and the years after the war (watch the video of their 50th anniversary reunion here). This also serves as a history lesson about the early days of aviation history. The men of the Yale Unit included: F. Trubee Davison (founder), Robert Lovett, Davd McCullough, Al Sturtevant, John Vorys, Johnn Farwell, Albert Ditman, Artemus L. Gates, Erl Gould, Allan Ames, C.D. Wiman, H.P. Davis Jr., Kenneth MacLeish and others.

Their story is told through interviews with aviation historians, history professors, a test pilot, a former Secretary of the Navy, and the descendants, sons, grandsons, granddaughters, grandnephews and nieces of the men. Actor Bruce Dern, who is also a descendant of one of the Yale Unit men, narrates the film. In addition to the interviews, there is archival footage as well as photos, letters, diary entries and flight/battle re-enactments with trained pilots flying replica WWI planes. According to co-director Greer, these replicas were from director Peter Jackson’s personal collection. Greer went on to say that it was important to film on “the actual sites in America and Europe where the young pilots trained, flew, fought and died.” He wanted to tell a “character-driven story” with a strong sense of place.

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The documentary was inspired by author Marc Wortman’s book by the same name. He is interviewed extensively in the film. Ron King picked up the book in 2006 and recognized his grandfather John M. Voyrus on the cover. He got in touch with Wortman and asked if a documentary was being made. Once he learned there was not, he set out to make one with his good friend Greer. King said,

“It reminds us of a time when people of privilege felt it was incumbent upon them to give back to the community who had afforded them so much. In this case, it was a group of young men who decided to put themselves on the line, defending the interests of the US in WWI. They did so with a spirit of high adventure…”

It took Greer and King seven years to make The Millionaires’ Unit. Extensive work went into research, re-enactment and funding. This was a passion project and it shows in the level of detail and thought that went into the final product.

This award-winning documentary is making it’s digital debut today. February 15th, 2018 marks the 100th anniversary of the death of Albert D. Sturtevant who was killed when his plane when down in the North Sea. He was the first U.S. Naval Aviator killed in WWI combat.

You can watch the movie on Vimeo. iTunes and other digital releases to come in the near future.

The Millionaires’ Unit is a fascinating documentary uncovers the little known history of the first Yale Unit’s contributions to American aviation during WWI. This should be required viewing for anyone with an interest in aviation history. In fact, an history buff will find much to enjoy here.

Official Website

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